Former Springboks captain Bob Skinstad is expecting an intriguing battle at Stade de France on Saturday night.
The Springboks-Ireland crunch clash on Saturday (kick-off 9pm) in Paris could come down to the “age and treachery of Johnny Sexton versus the youth and exuberance of Manie Libbok”.
These are the eloquent words of former Bok captain Skinstad, who is based in the UK, where he is a sought-after rugby analyst.
“The battle between the loose trios and the two flyhalves is where this game will be won and lost, and what a mouth-watering contest it will be in both respects,” Skinstad said from London.
‘Age and treachery versus youth and exuberance’
Skinstad suspects the showdown between the No 1 and No 2 teams in the world will boil down to the Springbok forwards doing their utmost to diminish veteran flyhalf Sexton’s influence on the game.
At the same time, the Irish will want to pressure the inexperienced Libbok into mistakes and prevent him from unleashing the potent Bok back-three of Damian Willemse, Kurt-Lee Arendse and Cheslin Kolbe.
“It is such an intriguing battle and what we are doing is rating Sexton on how he has controlled rugby over the last 10 years, versus the potential impact Manie can make over the next decade with his innovative play – we are at a watershed,” said Skinstad, who played 42 Tests in the green and gold.
“It is age and treachery versus youth and exuberance,” the 47-year-old smiled.
“But I will add that Manie is also a wily performer relative to his age (25). His no-look kick-pass for Kurt-Lee Arendse’s try against Scotland had the confidence of a man who has played 50 Tests.
“Comparing Manie to Sexton, I back Manie with his speed in open play, his cover defence and his stunning counter-attacking – Sexton doesn’t have that, but he does boast years of tactical management and immaculate goal-kicking.
“Also, the Boks will have eight big forwards looking out for Sexton all evening and he has to keep an eye out for the slippery customer opposite him.”
How Sexton and Libbok fare will be influenced by how they are looked after by their respective loose forwards, says Skinstad.
‘Irish have the best mix of loose forwards’
“In a rugby match, loose forwards are in the grey area between attack and defence – they have to fetch the ball if you do not have it, protect it if you do and carry it,” the former Stormers skipper said.
“The Irish arguably have the best mix of loose forwards in the world but the Bok loosies are right up there too – and the guys are all in great form, individually and as a unit.
“Looking at the Bok carriers … the likes of (Jasper) Wiese, PieterSteph (du Toit), (Marco) van Staden, Siya (Kolisi) … they are hard to pull down.
“And what you want is two or three Irishmen hanging on to them so that at the ensuing rucks, they start to run out of defenders and the holes open.”
Skinstad said that the Boks have evolved their game nicely and adding attack to their traditional bruising forward play could give them the edge.
“We are a bit of a yin and yang team these days,” Skinstad said.
“We are physically confrontational fullstop but can suddenly turn it on and attack from anywhere with devastating effect.
‘Both teams have the ability to spread the ball wide’
“Ireland are physical in how they blow out the rucks to get extra speed for the backs to get backs away.
“Both teams have the ability to spread the ball but the Boks also have this pincer movement on defence, where they tackle from the outside in to shut down teams trying to spread the ball.
“The Boks are the best in the world at it, so will Sexton try and unlock the defence by either going over the top, kick-passing or kicking smartly through the middle?”
*Skinstad teamed up with BoyleSports to preview the match between Ireland and South Africa.